President Barack Obama and his national security team are seeking an expansion of the U.S. government’s role in eavesdropping on the Internet including emails, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as BlackBerries.
According to reports, the Obama White House plans to submit a bill after the new congress takes over both houses next January that would require all online services that provide communications between users to be enabled to comply with federal wiretap orders.
The proposed monitoring measures will affect encrypted e-mail, such as the popular BlackBerry, networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, as well communication sites such as Skype.
Cash is already allocated for Obama’s new spy program. In the Pentagon’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal cybersecurity received a $105 million increase from the previous year. The Defense Department’s sub-command dedicated to cyber warfare — a facility in Fort Meade, Maryland, known as U.S. Cyber Command — is slated for a fiscal 2011 budget of $139 million under the Air Force budget proposal, in addition to funding from the U.S Strategic Command, which oversees its operations.
Federal law enforcement and counterterrorism experts claim the new Obama-sanctioned regulations are necessary in light of increased communications on the Internet between members of terrorist groups and organized crime gangs.
“It’s amazing how during the Bush administration, the limited actions taken to monitor terrorists’ communications met with fury from civil liberties groups and members of the news media. Now that a liberal-left president sits in the Oval Office, these same people are silent regarding increased surveillance of U.S. citizens by law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” said former intelligence officer and police detective Mike Snopes.
For most of his time in the White House, Obama has been critical of information about him and his administration posted on the Internet. He’s frequently denigrated bloggers and Internet conservative news & commentary web sites for their efforts to cover stories the so-called mainstream news media refuse to cover, according to critics of his plans to control the “Information Highway.”
“On the one hand, Obama advises Americans to avoid these “pajama media” web sites, but he frequently praises leftist site such as the Huffington Post and the George Soros-backed Media Matters,” said Snopes.
One political strategist points to a statement by President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
“Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago from-the-gut politician who is the last person you want having access to your personal information or monitoring your Internet activities,” said political strategist Mike Baker. “This is a crisis that may be used to take action against Americans not the Chinese or North Koreans.”
President Barack Obama’s planned Internet surveillance is a throwback to President Bill Clinton’s “Echelon Program.”
In arguably the most secretive and far reaching electronic surveillance program ever created, the Clinton Administration and the National Security Agency employed a global spy system, code named Echelon, which monitored just about every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world.
The Echelon system was fairly simple in design: position intercept stations all over the world to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications traffic, and then process this information through the massive computer capabilities of the NSA, including advanced voice recognition and optical character recognition programs. The system would look for code words or phrases (known as the Echelon Dictionary) that would prompt the computers to flag the message for recording and transcribing for future analysis.
Intelligence analysts at each of the respective listening stations maintained separate keyword lists for them to analyze any conversation or document flagged by the system, which is then forwarded to the respective intelligence agency headquarters that requested the intercept.
But apart from directing their ears towards terrorists and rogue states, Echelon was also used for purposes well outside its original mission. This regular domestic surveillance targeted American civilians, according to intelligence expert Patrick Poole.
For example, if someone discusses terrorism with a colleague, the words “terrorist,” “explosives,” “weapons,” “training,” would all be flagged for further surveillance.
The program was controlled by the NSA and operated in cooperation with the Government Communications Headquarters of England, the Communications Security Establishment of Canada, the Australian Defense Security Directorate, and the General Communications Security Bureau of New Zealand. These organizations were bound together under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA, whose terms and text remain under wraps even today, according to Poole, an adjunct professor at Bannockburn College in Franklin, Tennessee.
In a May 27,1999 story in the New York Times, Americans first heard about Echelon. Two congressmen, Republicans Bob Barr and Porter Goss, who later served as Director of Central Intelligence, demanded information on the program. But, Democrats defended Clinton’s spying on Americans as a “necessary evil.” Barr and Porter’s demand for information on Echelon died when President George W. Bush replaced Clinton in the White House.